Episode 25: Passover | 10 Minutes with the Gospel of John Podcasts (all) [Valid RSS]
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Episode 25: Passover

The Gospel of John describes a three Passover cycle, thus merging the importance of Passover with the undergirding story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
     The symbolism involved in the Passover festival extends beyond the level many Christians delve in our current period of time. This gathering of the people during the spring represented more than a simple religious feast; indeed it was Independence Day and New Year’s Day wrapped together. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke only mention Jesus going to Jerusalem for one Passover-his crucifixion. The Gospel of John describes a three Passover cycle, thus merging the importance of Passover with the undergirding story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

In the Old Testament

     Passover is established during the events of the Exodus and mentioned frequently during the final four books in the Torah. The initial celebration reshaped the yearly calendar for those departing Egypt with Moses and with Aaron. (Exodus 12:1) The lamb was selected four days prior to being slaughtered, roasted, and entirely consumed. (12:3-10) The blood of the lamb placed on the doorway served as a sign (Episode 24) on their houses and a protection from the death of the first-born. (12:7, 12-13) Combined with the Feast of Unleavened Bread, this eight-day celebration involved two Sabbath assemblies for Worship. (12:14-20)

     When Joshua and the new generation of the Exodus wanderings enter the land promised to their ancestor Abraham they celebrated the Passover. (Joshua 5:10-11) After the disastrous reign of Manasseh for the religious worship of Yahweh, Josiah restores the Temple and finds instructions calling for the celebration of Passover. The people once more celebrate this spring festival recounting the LORD’s activity in the history of their people. (1 Kings 23:21-23) Once the new generation of the Exile returns to the land promised they also celebrate the Passover in accordance with the words of the prophet Ezekiel. (Ezekiel 45:21, Ezra 6:19-21) Through the years and critical events the Passover celebration takes on additional symbolic meaning with regard to the LORD’s promise to Abraham and the role of the land as part of their religious practice.

Elsewhere in John

     Following the sign performed at the wedding of Cana, Jesus goes to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover Feast. When he encounters the busyness of the Temple focused on the exchange of animals and coin, Jesus disrupts that focus and discourages the business practice underlying the current worship of the LORD. (2:13-17) Jesus performed many other signs during these eight days, signs observed by the masses gathered who were expecting someone to restore their land, as happened in Joshua and Ezra. Jesus’ actions toward the Temple, however, more closely resemble those of Josiah.

     The Gospel of John does not record Jesus’ presence in Jerusalem at the time of the next mentioned Passover. Instead, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee a crowd focusing on Jesus’ signs follows him. Since Passover was near, the minds of all practitioners of Judaism were turning toward the events of the Exodus, the departure from Egypt, and God’s provision in the wilderness. Jesus proceeds to feed this crowd with the food of a child, consisting of five bread loaves made from barley and two fish. The people then associate Jesus with the Prophet spoken of by Moses (Episode 19) and Jesus withdraws before the crowd can make him King. (6:15)

     The final Passover recounted in the Gospel of John receives primary attention from many familiar with his story. Central to its impact is the comment in John 19:14 that Jesus was crucified on the “day of preparation for the Passover,” that is to say on the fourteenth day of the month as instructed in Exodus 12. Secondarily, the minor reference in the same verse recalls the John 6 event when Pilate declares to those gathered, “Behold your King.”

     What may be the most important reference to the Passover in the Gospel of John is frequently overlooked. Six days before Passover Jesus joins Lazarus, Mary, and Martha at their home outside Jerusalem. Mary pours out an expensive fragrance on Jesus’ feet, an act Jesus indicates is preparation for his day of burial. (12:1-8) After entering the city on the next day, Jesus is sought out by some Greeks also worshipping at the Passover Feast. (12:20) In response to the voice from heaven, Jesus repeats his teaching that the Son of Man must be lifted up. (12:32-34) The reference to the Son of Man being lifted up recalls the words of Jesus to Nicodemus in chapter 3, also set within Jesus’ first recorded visit to Jerusalem for the Passover.

Just as Moses lifted up the image of a snake in the
wilderness, the Son of Man must be lifted up in the same
fashion, in order that every person who believes in him
may possess the life of the ages. (John 3:14-15)

     Jesus’ death during the Passover week is but one of many discussions occurring during this crucial week in the Jewish calendar year. From the beginning of the Gospel, Jesus is characterized as demonstrating signs during this timeframe and having people, even large crowds following him and believing, at least in their own limited abilities.

Concluding Thought

     The theme of the Passover celebration weaves its way in and out and through the Gospel of John. Once one recognizes the influence of this feast on the way the story of Jesus unfolds, other inferences become more clear. For instance, John the Baptizer’s proclamation upon seeing Jesus becomes even more powerful.

On the next day John saw Jesus coming to him and
said, “Behold, God’s lamb who will take away the
world’s sins. This is the one I spoke concerning, ‘a man
is coming after me who has always been before me,
because he is of greater importance than I am.’ Now I
did not know him, for this reason I came baptizing with
water in order that he might be revealed to
Israel.” (John 1:29-31)

As God’s lamb who dies on the Day of Preparation, Jesus does take away the world’s sins. Perhaps, even more plainly, Jesus fulfills the words identifying the role of the lamb in Exodus as protection from the coming destruction. (Exodus 12:12-13) Might it be possible to read Jesus’ death upon that wooden cross as the placing of the lamb’s blood upon the doorposts and lintel of God’s house, thus acting as a sign to deter his destruction when he strikes the land? Whatever the full symbolism implied by the Passover, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus does represent a new beginning, not merely of a nation but for all humanity.

Take 5 Minutes More

     Ask yourself the question, “Am I comfortable with finding new symbolic meaning in teachings about Jesus I have heard most of my life?” Although this is a yes/no type of question, your response indicates your willingness or reticence to study the Bible fully and deeply.

     Consider the following, “The Passover as celebrated at the time of Jesus held multiple meanings.”
     • When I consider Jesus’s activities recorded in the Gospel of John during the three Passover’s what various elements am I celebrating?
     • How can I begin to talk with others about the new beginning for all humanity brought about by the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus?

     Write down your thoughts so that you will be able to share them with someone else later.


Updated August 4, 2022